Modern conveniences like cellphones and the Internet increasingly make living in rural Alaska less rural and decidedly more intriguing. With small villages scattered across the largest state connected by frozen roads and air travel, Alaskans are innovative in many ways.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are no exception, with the formation in recent years of the Alaska Bush Branch of the LDS Church.
With approximately 200 members from 36 families, the Bush Branch of the LDS Church meets Sunday mornings as many churches do, except this congregation meets over the phone.
Brother Chip Sharpe is the principal at Mountain Village School in Mountain Village. A member of the LDS Church, Sharpe appreciates the conference call technology. "Attending services over the phone is pretty unique," Sharpe said.
Mountain Village in Western Alaska is a village of some 1,250 people. The village has one school -- kindergarten through 12th grade -- with 264 students.
"It's what you make of it," Sharpe said, a lifelong member. "My wife and I dress up in our Sunday clothes and we have a picture of Christ in the room we call from. We try to make it more than just our house. It is about feeling the Spirit and feeling good. We sing songs and hymns."
Worshiping over the phone brings people from Western Alaska together in a way that would not otherwise be possible on a weekly basis. Brother Sharpe estimates that during one of the Sunday call-ins, he shared the church service with another member some 1,100 miles away.
The church has physical locations for worship in communities with larger populations like Bethel, Nome and Kotzebue. The Anchorage LDS chapel is where the Bush Branch members call in to for services.
Manokotak Nunaniq first-grade teacher Katrina Campbell looks forward to Sunday services from her living room.
"I learned of the church several years ago through an LDS couple who were teaching in Togiak," she said. "I was introduced to them through a family friend."
Although she has worshipped with the church for a couple of years over the phone, Campbell recently had the chance to travel to Anchorage over Christmas break and visit the actual church.
"Now I know what the church looks like and what goes on over there," she said.
"Our bush branch maintains a small room the call-in worshippers reach for service, within the larger building of the Anchorage LDS Church," Campbell said. "In the other part of the church, regular service is happening. What we hear when we call in is a separate sermon from what the attendees in Anchorage hear. Typically we interact with President Andersen, his wife and a missionary couple and anyone who is visiting through."
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints splits services into gender-specific meetings for portions as well as for age and experience.
"Call-ins begin with the priesthood class at 9 a.m.," she said. "Only gentlemen call in to this. The preaching service begins at 10 a.m., called the sacrament meeting. All adults attend this service. Sunday School follows and the women end the day of worship with Relief Society, a Sunday School for the women. Children's church follows."
With the different sections, worship can last three to five hours.
"Our church has three speakers," Campbell said. "We pray and partake of the sacrament, the bread and the water. We pray, sing and listen to the speakers. The speakers are members of the congregation who have been asked to prepare a message on a certain topic by the priesthood. Talks are usually three to five minutes and cover anything from tithing (or) the power of prayer to missionary work."
According to Campbell, Sunday school is more interactive.
"Members of the bush branch mute and unmute themselves to read passages from the Bible," said Campbell.
Campbell converted to the LDS church as an adult in 2011 when she taught in Korea.
Being relatively new to the LDS church, Campbell enjoys the new member class. "Even though I converted three years ago, I have had a very non-traditional background with the LDS and there is a new members class that I can call in to that is a specialized Sunday School," Campbell said.
"My favorite part of church," Campbell admitted, "is roll-call. The president has a computer, which displays the call-in numbers as they reach the conference call. Active members will be in the system. It is really neat to hear where people are calling from. When I answer roll-call, I say, 'One in Manokotak!' "
The closest call-in members to Manokotak live in King Salmon and Naknek.
Anyone interested may call in and is welcome to join the service. Dial 1-866-640-3173 and use the pin number 1049702.
Members can easily find branches worldwide as the LDS church connects all branches.
"As a member, or non-member, anyone can search out a church and will be welcomed to attend, " Campbell said.
Alaska Dispatch Publishing